Archives For Asheville

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA –At the beginning of this month, when the darkness and cold of winter seemed to be at their darkest and coldest, a group visited a shrine to the goddess Brigid, clearing away blockages to a spring and making offerings of flowers and milk. While that isn’t particularly remarkably in the Pagan community — many northern hemisphere practices include devotional acts at midwinter — it’s a bit more unusual when the practitioners are Christian.

Header_ImgMembers of the Jubilee! Community Church take “interfaith” to a level that is not commonly seen within an Abrahamic faith. Rather than seeking to understand basic tenets of other religions, they incorporate practices that are seen to tie into their interpretation of Christian faith, including celebrations of quarter and cross-quarter days. The church is based on a concept called Creation Spirituality, and led by Howard Hanger, a former Methodist minister who has turned a few heads, and attracted a fair number of congregants with his theology.

“When we first got started, we were definitely suspect,” Hanger said, and considered a cult by some. “There was a street preacher outside saying that we were sending people to hell.”

Now that the church is more established, “people mostly just leave [them] alone.” And, since they are no longer being actively condemned, they have joined Asheville’s vibrant interfaith community. “We find out commonalities with Baptists, Catholics, Jews . . . we all believe in making the world a better place, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, all that sort of stuff. We’ve tried to connect with local Muslims.” he added, but without much success as yet.

Area Pagans, however, have been more than welcoming. “Pagans have been very wonderful,” Hanger said. “We’re pretty closely aligned with Pagan celebrations of nature, celebrating creation is our big banner, a big connection with the earth-worshipping community.”

Asheville Author and Village Witch Byron Ballard agreed with that assessment. “Jubilee began here as a funky Sunday evening service at one of the largest Methodist churches in town. They borrow from all sorts of places,” she said, and the children’s educational program “goes to a lot of sources for inspiration.”

Even with all of this “borrowing,” there have been no accusations of cultural appropriation. Ballard noted, “Pagans don’t own the agricultural year, and I certainly wouldn’t go to the stake over the Wheel of the Year.” Rather, she said, “it feels interfaith rather than appropriative, as [the church’s Nurture Coordinator, Vicki Garlock] gives plenty of credit and doesn’t try to pretend it’s an old Christian concept. [She] often attends Mother Grove events, and I have spoken in her classes several times.”

Garlock wrote this about the program:

Some may wonder why a Christian congregation would focus so much attention on Pagan resources, so let me share our educational perspective. We’ve developed a Bible-based, interfaith curriculum that we use with kids from preschool through 8th grade. They learn the basic Bible stories and then use these themes and narratives to connect with other faith traditions. For example, when they learn about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, they also learn about prayer mats, prayer flags, prayer wheels, and prayer beads. We want the kids in our program to be grounded in our Judeo-Christian culture, but we also want to provide them with the tools they need to follow their own faith path.

In addition, we actively foster relationship with the Earth. We want youngsters to find the sacred in nature, to understand their connection to the environment, and to celebrate all of creation. These values are found throughout the world’s faith traditions, and many religious holidays coincide with seasonal changes. Kids understand seasons. They feel the changes in temperature, see the changes in plants, and associate certain events with certain seasons. Pagan wheel-of-the-year festivals offer us another opportunity to highlight the shared principles that all faith practices glean from the Earth’s wisdom.

In short, Jubilee’s philosophy, while grounded in Christianity, honors the similarities among traditions. Its credo encourages children to “follow their own faith path,” recognizing the divine in everything. A spiritual journey that begins at the Jubilee! Community Church could well take many directions. As Hanger pointed out, “We don’t worship Jesus. He never wanted that. We follow him. He was into that.”

Asheville, North Carolina – A Gardnerian coven recently posted a video of its 1996 public Samhain ritual that it claims was made by local police. The video is one of an estimated 100 surveillance videos that the Asheville Police Department recorded of various political rallies and religious gatherings since the early 1980’s.The High Priestess of Oldenwilde Coven says the lack of transparency and accountability, on the part of the local police department with regards to the tapes, combined with the chilling effect knowing that this was happening, is a cause for concern.

Over the past 30 years the Asheville police department has regularly video taped tax rallies, environmental protests, and street preachers. The practice of video taping by police came to light when a local newspaper, The Citizen-Times, filed a Freedom of information Act lawsuit to make the tapes public.

Oldenwilde Coven, however, has known about the tapes since sometime before 2008. Its High Priestess, Queen Lady Passion, explained that her relationship with the Asheville PD began in the mid 1990’s when an officer assigned to the occult crimes unit asked her to help the department determine the cause of local Church desecrations. She said, “He would bring me crude Books of Shadows found in such locations, and photos of Satanic graffiti scrawled on their walls, and the like, but the vast majority of such cases came down to reprisals by angry teens who’d been abused by Church elders.”

She says the professional relationship between Lady Passion and the officer developed a mutual respect and when the officer found out the coven’s Samhain ritual had been videotaped by a fellow law enforcement years earlier, he made a copy and smuggled it out to her.

High Priestess Lady Passion and High Priest *Diuvei of Oldenwilde Coven

High Priestess Lady Passion and High Priest *Diuvei of Oldenwilde Coven [Courtesy Photo]

Although the coven has had the video for over six years, they only recently decided to make it public. “Knowing the APD’s long-time practice of videotaping people who attend all manner of permitted public events, we kept the footage for future use when it would prove most effective, which is why we posted two such videos this week in support of the Asheville Citizen-Times‘s having filed a lawsuit regarding the issue,” said Lady Passion.

The coven leaders say they aren’t surprised that their activities were under surveillance. They had spent decades participating in pro-police reform activism. They say that they “…feel strongly that the precious nature of religious rights are constitutionally protected and should be treated with utmost respect.” They add that, “Pagans should be treated as valued community resources, not criminals-in-the-making, nor have their right to peaceably assemble or express their free speech overtly impeded by video-taping, gun-toting cops.”

The newspaper’s lawsuit also notes that the Asheville PD’s practice of routinely recording public gatherings has a chilling effect on free speech. The police department has said that the video’s aid in training and are part of ongoing criminal investigations, although there is no alleged criminal activity on the tapes. City officials have also said that no actionable criminal intelligence has come from the tapes.

David Carron, an attorney licensed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and Redesman of the Troth said that while free speech is protected, that protection isn’t absolute. He says:

I would have to say, that this is not legal advice and I have no license for that state, but given the facts you gave, I do have some hypotheses: Free Speech is constitutionally protected but the devil is in the details. State action, when curtailing the content of free speech, is supposed to be narrowly enacted and limited to specific issues. Hypothetically speaking and given the above facts, I suspect that the State’s position would be that this is a general investigation and a criminal issue rather then a free speech one. Assuming the facts as stated, it doesn’t sound like there would be any kind of valid articulable suspicion. I could not speak at all toward any discrimination claim.

Lady Passion says the Citizen-Times was able, through a review of the police department’s records, to confirm that officers had filmed the 1996 Samhain ritual. Yet the coven has a copy of a second video allegedly taken by police that was not listed in police records. Lady Passion says this raises, “worrisome concerns about the laxity of APD’s tracking methods; who sees them; how, when, or if they are ever destroyed.” She says it’s concerning why the police continue to defend the practice of video taping when a city spokesman admitted in an email that all videos taken since the 80’s had yielded no investigative value.

As of press time, the Asheville police department has not responded to questions.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

hydraulic fracturingOn Dec. 17, New York state officials announced that they would not allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state. According to local news reports, Gov. Cuomo let his experts make the final call on the issue. Based on six years of study, state commissioners from both the Department of Heath and the Department of Environmental Conservation advised against proceeding at this time. DOH commissioner Dr. Zucker said, “I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered … I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”

The announcement was a significant win for the newly formed Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City, whose original mission was to convince officials to ban fracking in the state. Since its inception, PEC-NYC has attended rallies, lobbied at book signings and sent petitions to the Governor. The organization’s work was highlighted in a Wild Hunt article called “Pagans Join the Fight against Fracking.”

When the news was announced, the group celebrated, saying:

It has been an extremely exciting week for PEC-NYC. Between submitting hundreds of Pagan signatures to Governor Cuomo in support of wind power and the announcement of a state-wide ban on fracking, we are ecstatic. Today, we celebrate but tomorrow, we go back to work. There are pipelines to fight, an LNG port to stop, and a wind farm to build. We would like to thank all who signed, marched, rallied, and all who donated money, goods, and time to these causes. We look forward to further solidarity.  We are far from finished.

*   *   *

Presentation1In Jan. 2015, a new organization will be launching called The Koinon. Its purpose will be to serve the greater Hellenic community, regardless of practice. As noted on its website, whether “you are a reconstructionist who holds rituals in ancient Greek or an Eclectic whose rituals include the Watchtowers, you have a place at our table.”

Organizer Conor Davis told The Wild Hunt that the group would have its 501c3 status by the summer 2015. In the meantime, organizers are building the plan, structure and other specifics. Davis said that anyone interested in joining the group or helping can either watch the website for updated information. or contact the organizers directly at thekoinon@gmail.com. Although not yet published, Davis sent us the group’s mission statement:

We the Koinon exist to serve the Theoi and the Hellenic community by providing Hellenists of all walks of life, worship methods, and personal practices a network of support and a place to belong as a people.

We believe in engaging our local communities through service, interfaith outreach and education, and through charity.

We believe in serving the larger Hellenic community through ongoing education and by providing a place of belonging.

We respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person and therefore reject all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and any other forms of discrimination.

*   *   *

pete pathfinderThe Aquariuan Tabernacle Church will be hosting a public memorial for Pete Pathfinder Davis on Dec. 27 in Seattle Washington. The group said that this will be the second of three memorial services. The first was held on the ATC property in the group’s own sacred space on Nov. 8.

The third “will be held at their annual Spring Mysteries Festival over Easter weekend” in Fort Flagler, Washington. This upcoming memorial will be held at Seattle Unity Church, located at 200 Eighth Avenue North in downtown Seattle. All are welcome to attend.

In Other News:

blogbanner2

  • For those who have enjoyed reading Phaedra Bonewits’ blog, she has returned. After a long two-year hiatus, Bonewits has published an entry entited “On Gifts, Friendship and Love.” In this timely and particularly moving story, she recalls her days celebrating the many happy holiday seasons with Isaac and the little touches that made it special. She shares memories from their last Yule together and the friendships that made that difficult season more magical. It is personal story of joy, friendship, loss, darkness and re-emergence.
  • In another entirely different blog post, Tim Titus reacts to news of potential changes in U.S.- Cuban relations. His personal experience with the Cuban culture have given him a deep appreciation for the country, its culture and people, which he pours into this article. Near the end, he writes, “Silence is just as damaging as violence. It tears apart a family it its own quiet, seemingly innocent way. It accomplishes nothing and is counterproductive to any relationship.The U.S. and Cuba have been sitting at the Table of Silence together for far too long.” Titus’ article is an excellent glimpse into a world most Americans have not been able to see.
  • Local Asheville, North Carolina news outlet Mountain Xpress ran a story about resident village witch Byron Ballard. In the article, Ballard talks about her own practice and beliefs, calling herself a “forensic folklorist.” She “excavates folk practices from older generations.” Ballard discusses her beloved mountain culture and laments the loss or “thinning” of the region’s traditions.
  • ACTION Yule 2014 is now available complete with a new array of interviews.

That’s it for now.  Have a great day!

[The following is a guest post from Star Bustamonte. Star Bustamonte is a certified Aromatherapist and co-coordinator of the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee. She serves as council member for the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.] 

This past Monday [August 4th] featured a rally in downtown Asheville to demonstrate how fed up a good portion of North Carolinians are with our state government. These rallies have grown out of protests held in Raleigh, our state capitol, and organized by a coalition of mostly Christian clergy, the NAACP, and a few other activist groups. They started out small, over a year ago, after the Republican held legislature began passing some of the most restrictive and oppressive laws in the country—affecting everything from healthcare, women’s rights, voting rights, huge education cuts, anti-environmental laws, and a lot of other things.

2014-08-04_16-56-33_824

Over time the protests grew from a few hundred attending to thousands of people showing up. Over a thousand people have been arrested for civil disobedience at these protests to date. The legislature even passed new laws to attempt to prevent people from protesting and making it easier to arrest the people who did protest. Once the legislature went on break, the protesters starting having rallies in other cities. The one in Asheville last year had anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend (depending on who you ask). I was there and 10K is a very believable number.

This year I attended with several people who are friends and members of the same Goddess temple and I viewed the event more through the Pagan lens than I did the year before. Needless to say, me and mine were not represented. All the clergy who spoke were Christian. Granted there were women who spoke, some quite eloquently, and a female minister who has been on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights, but no Rabbis, Imams, or any other minority faith was represented. Certainly no Pagan clergy.

I’m pretty civically minded, as are my friends who attended. We all believe in some manner that in order to be counted as productive members of the community, participation is required. Sometimes, all that means is you show up and are merely attentive to what is going on. Sometimes, you get to carry cool props, like my friend, Byron Ballard, who brought a pitchfork.

In a twist of irony that only seems somehow oddly appropriate, Byron was the only participant the local paper quoted who was not a speaker for the rally, “We all know they only way you get the monsters out of the castle is with a flaming torch and a pitchfork.”

2014-08-04_16-53-56_677

Indeed, Byron provided a fair amount of amusement for the rest of us. She invented new verses for the protest song, “We Will Not Be Moved” that involved flames, our elected officials, and a place only Christians believe in. Others around us in the crowd gave us dubious looks as we tried to control our chortlings since they could not hear what Byron was singing. Every time a Jesus reference was made or scripture quoted, Byron would turn around at look at us over the edge of glasses like the way a librarian does when you make too much noise. We all, of course, giggled like naughty children.

It seemed that pretty much everyone in attendance had a particular issue they were championing. Some were obviously old hands at community activism while others, like many of the teachers present, were there due to recent shifts in government that would most certainly impact them directly. I wondered how many of the people present were of minority belief systems and if the overtly Christian overtones bothered them.

2014-08-04_16-59-43_784The more I thought about this in the days following the rally, the more it became clear to me that if any of us who are part of a minority religion want to part of events like this, we have to demand to be included. If we are waiting for a seat at the table to be offered to us, we will likely be waiting a long time. On the other hand, do we even want a seat at the table? I’m a pretty big advocate for separation of church and state, and there is a part of me that cringes at the idea of clergy banding together to bring about legislative changes.

Never mind that I agree with their assessment regarding how the majority of the legislation passed has eroded our rights as citizens and made life that much more difficult for folks just trying to make ends meet. As a society, we need to stand up, together, and say no. But should it be clergy that is leading this fight? Oh sure, at this point there are labour unions, educators, medical professionals and a whole host of other would-be and long time activists involved. But that still does not answer my question of whether Pagans should be demanding to be included.

 

I also must confess that the many references to Jesus and scripture rub my fur the wrong way. I tried to imagine what it would be like if a Pagan had been speaking and referenced a Pagan deity. I honestly think it would bother me almost as much. Can we not come together as a group/society/community and leave our collective deities at the door? Is that too much to ask? I do not really know the answer to any of these questions that have risen up in my twisty brain. The one thing I do know is that I’m very unhappy with the way our state is being run. So even if I have to suffer through speeches laced with references to a belief system that is not my own, I will likely still attend. At least as Pagans we have better props to choose from!

This past Friday in Asheville, North Carolina was the second annual Blessings on the River: an Oshun Veneration & Concert. Held in concert with rites performed at Asheville’s sister city of Osogbo, Nigeria, proceeds from donations during the veneration benefited the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. The event was sponsored by the Zamani Refuge African Culture Center, with event altars constructed by Mother Grove Goddess Temple. Valeria Osunyemi Watson-Doost from the Zamani Refuge, herself a priestess of Oshun, has posted a four-part video series from the event on Youtube.

Here are the links for part 2, part 3, and part 4. You can also watch footage from the inaugural event last year.

This looks like an excellent example of how a US-based Goddess/Pagan community can participate in an event for the benefit of indigenous pre-Christian religions in far-flung parts of the globe. Local writer Byron Ballard, a member of the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and blogger for the Asheville Citizen-Times, noted that the event was “a terrific opportunity to connect with people in our community who practice a beautiful spirituality”. I imagine that participants in Asheville and Osogbo have both been enriched by this experience, and that practitioners of Yoruba Traditional Religion have achieved a kind of outreach and understanding rarely found in the United States.

As the modern Paganism movement become an increasingly international phenomenon, we are going to get more chances like this to interact, share, and make alliances with indigenous faiths and revived Paganisms across the globe. Outreach efforts to European indigenous faiths, African traditional religions (and African diasporic faiths), and indigenous faiths in the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East may allow advances we couldn’t achieve alone. I will be tracking this phenomenon in the months to come.

You have to love the Unitarian Universalists, they’re the only religious denomination that’s includes more theological diversity than the modern Pagan movement does. Pagans, Christians, Humanists, Buddhists, and Jews mix and mingle freely at UU churches across the country. So when I heard about the controversy over the election of Cecil Bothwell, a writer and avowed “post-theist”, to the Asheville city council, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear he’s an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville. What’s the controversy? He’s making national headlines because local Christians are arguing that he can’t serve because he doesn’t believe in God.

“North Carolina’s constitution is clear: politicians who deny the existence of God are barred from holding office. Opponents of Cecil Bothwell are seizing on that law to argue he should not be seated as a City Council member today, even though federal courts have ruled religious tests for public office are unlawful under the U.S. Constitution. Voters elected the writer and builder to the council last month … Article 6, section 8 of the state constitution says: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” Rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution trump the restriction in the state constitution, said Bob Orr, executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law.”

The story has made On Faith, Fox, the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, and Rachel Maddow (among other outlets).

Naturally, any legal actions to remove Bothwell are ultimately doomed to failure thanks to this thing called the United States Constitution, where Article VI, section 3, states that:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

That not only allows atheists and post-theists to hold political office despite local laws and prejudices, but also allows Pagan politicians like Dan Halloran and Jessica Orsini to do so as well. This right of freedom from a religious test for government office or employment was strengthened by the 1961 Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins, that ruled:

“We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.

In short, it doesn’t matter if you are a theist, post-theist, atheist, or polytheist, you can’t be denied government office or position, at any level, due to your belief, or lack of belief, in divinity. A level playing field that infuriates those who continually insist that America belongs to Christianity alone. A win here for this UU post-theist is a win for all religious minorities, and those concerned about maintaining a separation of church and state.

“I’m fielding e-mails from dozens of people around the country—so far all supportive—and the writers include Christians as well as atheists and Quakers and Muslims and pagans and more. I’ve read some of the thousands of comments posted on blogs and the vast majority of folks support the separation of church and state that has figured so prominently in the history of this country. It is reassuring to me that there is such a broad understanding that freedom OF religion necessarily includes freedom FROM religion, else such a guarantee has no real meaning.”

Congratulations to Councilman Bothwell, may he serve Asheville, and its many Pagan citizens, well.

Asheville Witches Win

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2008 — 2 Comments

For over a year, Dixie Deerman (aka Lady Passion), a Wiccan from Asheville, North Carolina, has been a driving force in trying to save a century-old magnolia tree from being cut down by local developers. The tree has become a galvanizing issue in Asheville, gaining support from local environmentalists and community members, and being used as a political football in City Council elections. Recently, Lady Passion and others had been keeping a 24/7 vigil at the tree in order to protect it.


Lady Passion under the magnolia tree.

“The Magnolia Tree has become a modern-day Liberty Tree. Citizens of every description — wealthy and homeless, developers and Earth Firsters, seniors and teens, Christians and Pagans, liberals and conservatives, even the mayor, several councilpersons and the police chief — have stopped by to “sit a spell,” share their troubles caused by corrupt government and a collapsing economy, and give us their heartfelt thanks for what we are doing. Many leave offerings for the tree, which seems to exert a magically peaceful aura — partly because, as conservative councilman Carl Mumpower noted when he visited the tree, magnolia bark is known to have anti-depressant qualities. And they add their signatures to the thousands of others on a Stop Parkside! petition.”

Now it seems that the Witches (and their allies) have won. On Aug. 28, Superior Court Judge Marlene Hyatt ruled in favor of the family who had originally donated the land to the county, saving the tree, and the surrounding park, from further development.

“The lawsuit asserted that Pack had donated the land on the condition that it be preserved in perpetuity for public use—and that it would revert to his heirs if it were ever sold for private purposes, as the county did in 2006. Coleman had planned to build the nine-story Parkside condominium project on that land and an adjacent parcel he’d previously purchased. “George Pack made it abundantly clear exactly what the purpose of this land was: It was meant for a courthouse, for county offices or for public purposes,” Ferikes told the court.”

Lady Passion and Coven Oldenwilde are naturally quite happy with this ruling.

“We are thrilled with this unprecidented win, and very appreciative of the over 9,000 people who signed the Stop Parkside petition, the hundreds who actively enabled our tree sit in innumerable ways, and the God/desses who answered our hearfelt pleas: All hail Hecate, Herne, Themis, Maat, Flidais and Nike! We remain vigilant in preventing retribution against the tree until Hyatt signs the official order restoring the land into public use (she’s on vacation at present). Please help us continue to defend the magnolia if you’re nearby; if you live afar, do so by viewing the tree 24/7 via webcam…”

So it looks like those “Barbarous Words of Power to thwart the developer”, and a lot of local activism, have won the day. Congratulations to Lady Passion, Coven Oldenwilde, and the Stop Parkside coalition on saving the tree, and the land surrounding it, from development.